Pinterest Moment: Brigid Bread

It seems the original image comes from the lovely blog Magical Musings

It seems the original image comes from the lovely blog Magical Musings

I think this image has popped up on more than one Pagan’s Pinterest this Candlemas season, and for good reason.  That’s one helluva gorgeous loaf of bread, and whoever had the idea to braid it into a Brigid’s Cross is a freaking genius.

Lately, one of the things I’ve been trying to incorporate into my own practice is signs and symbols to tie opposing Sabbats together.  After all, the wheel of the year forms a spiral through time, but each arm holds strongest to its foil.  Samhain and Beltane, Yule and Midsummer, Candlemas and Lammas, Spring and Autumn…part of the mystery of these Sabbats is how they complement their pair on the wheel’s other side.

For a very long time, I’ve been baking bread at Lammas to inaugurate the grain harvest (which is generally the whole month of August in the PNW)–and that’s a very typical practice for that Holiday.  How great would it be to bake the same ritual bread for both Candlemas and Lammas?  Since I also tend to use Candlemas to set my “New Year’s Resolutions” into place, I think I might craft it so that we ritually consume this special loaf while committing to our resolutions at Candlemas and then again at Lammas to celebrate the harvest of those intentions, to re-commit to those we’ve found useful, and to retire those we have not.  To change things up, I think I might serve the Candlemas one with a custard cheese paska* that my dear covenmate V. introduced me to and for Lammas perhaps a rabbit stew.  This seems right, since Candlemas–Imbolc–sees the return of dairy and eggs and the wheat harvest traditionally concluded with killing and eating the field rabbits that took refuge in the last stand of wheat.

If you do want to make a bread like this, you’ve got to start with a good, solid braiding bread recipe.  As much as I love my no-knead bread recipes, those are all too loose to make cleanly defined braids such as in the above loaf.  I’ve had good luck here with the Four-Strand Challah recipe I found on the King Arthur Flour website.  The recipe is as follows:

Quick Starter
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup (8 ounces) water
2 teaspoons instant yeast

Dough
All of the starter
3 1/2 cups (15 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable oil
2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)

Wash
1 egg white
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
poppy seeds (optional)

Starter: Mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes. (This type of quick starter is called for in recipes that are high in sugar, in order to let the yeast get a head start. If you have Fermipan Brown or SAF Gold yeast — both formulated especially for sweet breads — this recipe may be prepared as a straight dough, with all of the ingredients mixed together at once.

Dough: Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together — by hand, mixer or bread machine — until a smooth, supple dough is formed. This dough is a pleasure to work with — smooth and silky, it almost feels like you’re rubbing your hands with lotion. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until it’s doubled in size.

Shaping: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice, to expel the carbon dioxide. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18 inches long. On the lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan, braid a four-strand braid (see instructions below) or fashion a simpler three-strand braid.

NOTE: How To Make A Four-Strand Braid:Lay the strands side by side, and pinch them together at one end. For instruction purposes, think of the far left strand as #1, next is #2, then #3, and the far right is #4. Take the left-hand strand (#1) and move it to the right over strands #2 and #3, then tuck it back under strand #3. Take the right-hand strand (#4) and move it to the left over strands #3 and #1, then tuck it back under strand #1. Repeat this process until finished.

Make the wash by mixing together, in a small bowl, the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf with this mixture, reserving some for a second wash. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size.

Baking:Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust, as well as provide “glue” for the seeds), sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired, and bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the challah is lightly browned. Remove it from the oven, and cool completely before slicing. Yield: 1 loaf, about 16 1-inch slices.

How to start a Brigid's Cross

How to start a Brigid’s Cross

Obviously, you’ll need more than four dough ropes to make a Brigid’s cross.  In fact, if I’m counting correctly, the loaf above may have used 10 strands.  I think it would be best to play at this first and see how many you’ll need to create a cross that has an even square.  You definitely want each arm to have an even number of strands in it so that the loaf will bake evenly, and you want the whole thing to have a sort of even thickness, too.  Because of this, I think that the folding shown in the diagram to the right might adapt itself best to dough braiding, and I think eight ropes will work the best.  Just remember to tuck the ends of the final rope through the loop head of the first in its round in order to have the look of the pictured loaf.  Once you’ve braided, trim the cross ends so that they are even, roll out the scrap dough, and use that to bind the ends together.

*V. must have some Russian in her family line.  To her, paska is a dairy custard dessert made from butter, cottage cheese, and cream cheese.  To my Slovak family, paska is a sweet, raisin-studded bread.  As much as I love V.’s paska, I would never make it for my Spring celebration, so this adaptation works perfectly.

How My Coven Blesses our Candles

Don't worry, passing our candles over a flaming pentagram is not part of the blessing.

Don’t worry, passing our candles over a flaming pentagram is not part of the blessing.

Last post I mentioned how one of the ways I now celebrate Candlemas is to bless the candles I anticipate using in ritual and spellwork throughout the subsequent year.  I did not, however, discuss how we do that.

What we essentially do is to cut each wick to about a quarter of an inch and then light it from one of our High Priestess’s candles that she has lit from the central candle of her altar.  We let the candle burn until it is drawing wax up the wick, then we extinguish the flame and repeat with the next candle until each of us have done all the candles we brought.  It’s a bit of a hodge-podge.  Since this can go on for some time, if we have other work to accomplish, we just do one or two candles in group, then cast circle for ourselves at home later and do the rest in private.  We don’t anoint the candles with oil:  that’s done prior to the individual rituals and workings themselves.

What this effectively accomplishes is it magically “links” all the candles used in our coven together.  When we use one, it contains all the magics of all the workings we’ve done prior and it carries our working into the future.  When we re-light the candle, we re-awaken this flame.  It creates a circle that will continue forever, renewing itself and gaining strength with each new working.

I think that this act of re-lighting stands as an excellent metaphor for the nature of magic and connection.  Any one point in the great fire of our coven magic can be snuffed out briefly, but in passing our fire on to others and in doing more it gains in strength; once the individual points become numerous enough, it will be a great roaring flame that no man can ever extinguish.  Every new candle we light, we light first off one that has been previously lit–never directly from the match–so that great flame can grow.

Sister

Brigidine Sister Mary Teresa Cullen re-lites Solas Bhride (Brigid’s Fire) in the Market Square, Kildare, in 1993.

However, this particular flame is one that burns not only to link our coven together, but to grace all our work with Solas Bhride, or Brigid’s Fire.  As we likely know, the pre-Christian Celts burned a sacred fire to the Celtic Goddess Brighid at Cil Dara.  Eventually by the sixth century, a priestess at that shrine, also named Brigid, converted to Christianity and continued to keep that fire alight to represent Christianity’s new light.  The sisters in her order continued to keep this flame alight until the sixteenth century when Henry VIII destroyed many Irish monasteries.  However, Kildare hosted an annual conference of an Irish humanitarian group in 1993.  At this conference (entitled Brigid: Prophetess, Earthwoman, Peacemaker), Sr. Mary Teresa Cullen lit a symbolic flame in the Market Square.  By the close of the productive, positive conference, all agreed that this was a flame worthy of rekindling Solas Bhride.  The sisters moved it into their center and returned it to the town square for the month of February each year until 2006 when it was permanently moved to the town square.  It continues to burn as a force for peace and justice in our world.

Our flames all come from Solas Bhride’s 1993 rekindling.  A Reclaiming priestess visited the Brigadine center in 1994, and–as the story goes–the sisters and she found a great deal of common ground.  The sisters eventually gifted the priestess with a candle lit from Solas Bhride and charged her (a charge that the priestess felt came from Brigid herself) with the task of spreading it person to person across the globe.  She brought it back to San Francisco.  One of those she gifted the flame to was in my High Priestess’s kin, who passed it to my High Priestess, who passes it on to her own students in turn.  My group isn’t the only one who burns this flame, and we know many non-pagans who burn it, too.  So in addition to linking us together, our tradition of Candlemas candle blessing links us to all who allow Solas Bhride to continue, whether in Kildare’s Market Square or in one’s own heart. I don’t think you get more blessed than that.

Practical Magic: Candles for Candlemas

Happy Candlemas

Happy Candlemas

There are tons of ways to celebrate the Sabbat of Candlemas or Imbolc, as Jason Mankey aptly explored in a recent post on Raise the Horns.  In the past, I myself have used it as a devotional to Bridget, as a celebration of the return of milk and egg production, and as an acknowledgment of snow and an encouragement of Spring’s return.  Now that I’m more BTW than innovative in my practice, Candlemas is the holiday where I rejoice at the sun’s now-noticeable waxing (Hey!  It’s no longer pitch-black when I leave work at 5 pm!) and bless my ritual candles for the upcoming year with the energies of the strengthening sun.

In order to bless your ritual candles, though, you actually have to have your store of ritual candles laid up.  All of them.  For the whole year.

That takes some forethought, doesn’t it?  There’s definitely a gamut of things to consider:  What are the possible spells I’ll do, how many rituals will I take on, how long will they take, and how much money do I have to invest in candles are just a few of the immediate questions that come to my mind.

These days I’ve gone ’round the wheel enough to anticipate my general needs and burning practices.  I know now that I need eight pairs of 12-inch red beeswax tapers for my Sabbat altar candles since I use a new pair at every festival.  These tapers have about a 12-hour burn time, so I use the ample remainders as my daily meditation candles until the next Sabbat.  If I run out, I keep a stash of half-inch diameter, 4-inch long red beeswax “Holiday candles”.  If I still have some remaining, I let them burn on the eve of the next Sabbat until they’re gone.  I also get four pairs of natural beeswax tapers to use as the altar candles for the new and full Esbats and for any work that crops up between them.  I’ve long since given up using tapers for the quarters, mostly because I’m paranoid about lighting my hair on fire.  Instead, I perch appropriately colored glass votive inserts into standard taper holders and pop a beeswax votive candle into them.  I’ve been finding that one votive typically lasts me about a season, so I tend to buy 16-18.  Finally, for spell work I’ve been trying to buy a pair of 12-inch beeswax tapers in each of the rainbow colors:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.  I reserve these for more important spell work.  For general petitions or workings in which I need a lot of candles, I like to use the standard paraffin chime candles you can find at most Pagan friendly stores for something like 4 for $1.

I can't say enough positive things about Big Dipper.  Their colors are rich and the candles burn perfectly.  Heck, even the logo is awesome.

I can’t say enough positive things about Big Dipper. Their colors are rich and the candles burn perfectly. Heck, even the logo is awesome.

Prior to moving to Olympia, I got all my beeswax needs tended to by Sue Theolass, a long-time vendor at Eugene’s Saturday Markets.  It was pretty amazing to buy my candles directly from the woman who hand-dipped them, and I treasured her wares immensely.  These day, though, I get my candles from Seattle’s Big Dipper Wax Works.  The 12-inch tapers run about $9.50 a pair, so I know my taper bill is going to come close to $190 per annum, but they’re very much worth it.  They also have lovely red 2″ diameter pillars that run $10 each, and a case of 18 of their votives is about $40.50.  All in all, it seems that a year’s worth of ritual candles runs me about $250.

Obviously, this is a ton of money for something ultimately disposable.  My choice to spring for beeswax as opposed to much cheaper paraffin for ritual stems from my desire to make my ritual space a healthy one.  People with chemical sensitivities can react to burning paraffin but can tolerate beeswax very well.  In addition, beeswax is obviously renewable (so long as we have bees!) whereas paraffin comes from fossil fuel oil.  Then, of course, there’s the fact that their lovely honey smell immediately puts me in ritual mind-set:  a decided bonus.  Another great bonus?  The light given by a candle varies based on what its fuel is.  Light given by beeswax candles is the closest of all to the sun’s spectrum.  Paraffin is more like an incandescent bulb, and soy wax produces a surprisingly dim flame.

That being said, there’s definitely no shame in buying paraffin candles if that’s what your budget can sustain, and the Craft should never put you in the poor house.  If you can come up with a few reasonable sacrifices for the year to offset the cost, great.  If not, regular old Wal-mart candles will do just fine.

See?  Chime candles are so itty-bitty (1/2-inch diameter and 4 inches long) that you can fit a ton into a tea light holder.

See? Chime candles are so itty-bitty (1/2-inch diameter and 4 inches long) that you can fit a ton into a tea light holder.

Since my own budget barely stretches to cover ritual candles, you can better believe I’m all over the cheap chime candles for most of my spellwork.  It seems that just about every pagan store gets them from Biedermann & Sons, which only sells to retailers.  However, with a bit of shopping you are bound to find a store that will sell you a box of 20 for about $5.  In past years, groups that I’ve been in have bought 2-3 boxes each of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, pink, white and black, then split them up so that everyone got the same number and variety of candles.  If you organize something similar with your group, you’ll likely find that $10-$20 will get you enough candles and enough variety to last you a year or longer!

Yule Ornament Idea: Pasta Angels

It’s been my experience that angels are something of a divisive issue in the Pagan community.  There’s a very vocal camp that maintain that they’re a unique creation of the Abrahamic religions (and Zoroastrianism) and that there’s no place for them in Neopaganism.  There’s another camp that reminds us all that angel-like creatures are not unique to the Abrahamic religions and that important influences upon contemporary Paganism placed a good deal of emphasis on them.  In particular, Theosophy–an esoteric philosophy repopularized under Helena Blavatsky in the late 19th century that influences a lot of contemporary Paganism–developed a concept of devas (a word taken from a similar being in Buddhism), which were essentially solar or planetary angels that could be reincarnations of human beings.  In Theosophy, Nature spirits, elementals, and fairies also share a lot of similarities with these angelic devas.  In addition to Theosophy, another influence on contemporary Paganism, the Hermetic Qabalah, also insists upon angels, and incorporates 10 archangels into its magical system.

If you’re a pagan who uses the concept of angels in your practice, this “craft-tastic” holiday ornament might interest you and your family.  Break out the dried pasta and acrylic paints and get ready to return to pre-school!

A couple Pasta Angels perched on my Pentacle.

A couple Pasta Angels perched on my Pentacle.

What You’ll Need:

  • Twine or other thread/ribbon for hanging
  • A bobby pin to help thread the twine through the head
  • A number of wooden beads to serve as heads
  • Ditalini pasta (n. 45) to serve as hair
  • Rigatoni pasta to serve as bodies (squatter, thicker rigatoni shapes work better than longer, thinner rigatoni)
  • Farfalle/Bowtie pasta to serve as wings
  • Elbow macaroni to serve as arms
  • Thumbtacks to serve as candles
  • Hot glue gun
  • Hot glue sticks
  • Acrylic paint: at least 1 white bottle and 1 colored bottle (keep in mind that green doesn’t show up well on a tree).
  1. Paint the farfalle pasta white on both sides.  Paint the rigatoni pieces, too.  You may need to do two coats, depending on the paint thickness.  If you desire to paint the ditalini or elbow macaroni a color, do so now as well.  However, these pieces are very small and painting them will be very laborious.
  2. Poke the closed end of the bobby pin through the wooden bead and thread the twine through it.  Pull a loop of twine through the head and knot it at the bottom of the doll’s head.  Cut the twine off next to the knot.
  3. Using the hot glue gun, glue the ditalini to the head to look like curled hair.  It is best to try to lay just enough glue to tack three pieces to the head at a time.  Continue to glue ditalini to the head until the entire back of the bead is covered.
  4. Run a bead of hot glue around the knot at the base of the head bead and fix a rigatoni to it.
  5. Dab a bead of hot glue onto the back of a farfalle and affix it to the back of the angel, about halfway down the rigatoni.
  6. Dab hot glue onto one side of a macaroni and attach it to the front of the rigatoni so that the open ends of the macaroni point upward.  Repeat with the other macaroni in a mirror image of the first.
  7. Dab hot glue onto the top of the two macaroni openings in the center of the angel and fix the top of a thumbtack to it so that the point is upward.
  8. Let the angel cool completely and hang it from your tree.

Yule Ornament Idea: Simple Felt Santa Drops

baumwichtel_07

Aren’t these little drops darling? And they’re so easy to make, too!

After the year I made a million Christmas mice, I definitely warmed up to the idea of using felt in making Christmas ornaments.  It’s really easy stuff to work with, and–if you buy wool felt and stuffing–pretty darn eco-friendly.  I decided to whip out my felt reserves again this year with this incredibly simple collection of teardrop Santas (or Oak and Holly Kings, if you want to be so inclined).  All you do is cut out a couple tear drop shapes, some flesh-toned circles, and some white beards, glue (or sew) the circles onto one tear drop and tack down the beard with a few red stitches.  Add a cute little button to the belly, and sew two drops together, and you’re done!  Should these little fellows appeal to you, here’s what you’ll need:

  • This Santa Pattern, which is a printable .pdf.  All the words are in German, but it’s easy to figure out what is what.
  • A few scraps of felt in an assortment of colors.  Shades of red, green, and blue will all be especially ‘holiday’ themed.  Darker greens don’t show up very well in trees, though.
  • Thread to match the body colors
  • A few scraps of felt in flesh tones
  • A few white scraps of felt
  • Bright red embroidery floss
  • Black embroidery floss
  • Fabri-tac fabric adhesive
  • Fabric paint OR blush for cheeks
  • Batting
  • A chopstick
  • An assortment of small buttons
If using a sewing machine, you might find it more convenient to stuff the ornament while it's still on the machine.

If using a sewing machine, you might find it more convenient to stuff the ornament while it’s still on the machine.

To begin, cut out all your body shapes, faces, and beards.  Glue the faces to half of the body shapes using Fabri-tac or sew them into place, either with a straight stitch on a sewing machine or hand sewing with a blanket stitch.  Give the face red cheeks either by wetting a scrap of fabric or a Q-tip, dabbing it in a drop of red fabric paint, blotting off the excess, and dabbing the scrap onto the cheeks or by carefully working a little bit of blusher into the fabric with a Q-tip.  Using black embroidery thread, sew eyes onto the face.  I think using 1-3 parallel stitches here gives a cuter look than using french knots, but do whatever you like.  Using red embroidery thread, affix the beard to the face with 3-4 to form a smile  Sew on a button below the beard.

Using a straight stitch on a sewing machine or hand sewing with a running stitch, sew two teardrops together, right side out, leaving a chopstick-sized hole.  Use a chop stick to push batting through the teardrop layers, then sew up the hole.

Thread an embroidery needle with ribbon or red embroidery floss and push it through the top of the tear drop in order to create a hanger.  Knot off the thread, then put the ornament on your tree.

Yule Ornament Idea: Birdseed Ornaments

The woodland creatures need Yuletide decor, too!

The woodland creatures need Yuletide decor, too!

While we’re in the habit of creating holiday bits and baubles to decorate our homes, it’s also a good time to think of things we can do for the other creatures in our community.  Winter is a harsh time for all the animals in our ecosystem.  Cruelly, they need more food to fuel their metabolisms and stay warm when there’s not as much food available.  It’s a simple thing to set out salt licks for deer and maintain birdfeeders for our feathered friends, but–if you’re feeling crafty–you can find ways to make attractive, edible ‘ornaments’ for the creatures, too.

This is one such craft.  You essentially bind birdseed together with flour, gelatin, and sugar and press it into attractive molds, then suspend the ‘ornaments’ from tree branches outside.

If you’ve got a collection of seasonal cookie cutters, feel free to use those.  Snowflakes, stars, and gingerbread men look adorable and catch a lot of attention.  Of course, a muffin tin will work, too.  My favorite is just to make thin circles using my canning jar rings, or thicker ones using old tuna fish cans (which I’ve repurposed for English Muffin molds).  See what you have lying about and how creative you can become.

You Will Need:

3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons corn syrup
4 cups birdseed
A variety of molds (muffin tin, cookie cutters, etc. I use a lot of canning jar rings.)
nonstick spray
drinking straw or thick nails
waxed paper
biodegradable twine or raffia

  1. Combine the flour, water, gelatin and corn syrup in a large mixing bowl. Stir until well-combined.
  2. Add the birdseed to the mixture, stir until well coated.
  3. Spray your molds with cooking spray, and spoon birdseed mixture into each mold. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to pack it down, and make the top smooth.
  4. Poke a hole through top of each birdseed mold using a drinking straw or nail, making sure it goes all the way through.  Leave the straw/nail in the
  5. Leave the birdseed mixture in the molds for two to three hours. Then, remove the straws/nails and lay out a sheet of waxed paper. Gently remove the hardened ornaments from the mold, and place them on the wax paper upside down. Allow them to dry for at least two to three more hours, or overnight
  6. Cut your twine and carefully put it through the hole, knotting the ends to form a loop.
  7. Hang your ornaments on an outdoor tree.

Yule Ornament Idea: Baby Sock Countdown Calendar

As I’ve done for the previous two years, I am posting Yule ornament and decoration ideas on each of the four Mondays before Yule (December 21st, 2013!). Enjoy the crafting!

A kid-friendly way to avoid the "When is Yule?!" interrogations.

A kid-friendly way to avoid the “When is Yule?!” interrogations.

Advent Calendars are pretty popular holiday traditions amongst our Christian friends.  I’ve never really seen the appeal of them before–despite growing up Catholic, my parents did not see the point in maintaining a countdown when my brothers and I were perfectly capable of looking at reading the family calendar.

However, this past year I visited some Christian friends and their very small, very excitable children.  These children have no patience at all.  I swear, whenever I’ve gone with this friend to any place, her toddlers spend the entire trip backseat asking “are we there yet?”  I positively dreaded staying with them for more than 20 minutes during the Christmas season, but the kiddos were perfect angels.  Their mom attributed their new patience to her adorable advent calendar.

Following Martha Stewart’s lead, my friend strung up a whole bunch of baby socks and tagged them with numbers.  She stuffed each sock with a couple treats–Hershey Kisses, novelty crayons, Dollar Store matchbox cars, stickers, Silly Putty, etc.–and every morning after breakfast, the kids got to ‘open’ a stocking.  It was just enough of a novelty for the kids to be satisfied, and it gave them a really strong visual (Mom took each sock away after it was unclipped) to show them how long it was until Christmas arrived.

Us Pagans could totally adopt this trend.  In my house, I can definitely see stringing up a bunch of little socks and treats the day after Thanksgiving with a countdown until the Solstice.  It would be so cute!

You Will Need:
Enough socks to go from your start date to the Solstice.  If beginning from December 1st, at least 22 (11 pairs).  If beginning from Thanksgiving, at least 30 (15 pairs).
Ribbon
Number stickers
Round stickers
Pushpins
Mini clothespins
Gifts and Candy

1. Gather up to 15 pairs of socks in colors that go well together (vary the sizes, if you like). Lay them out in the order you want to hang them, leaving spaces in between.

2. Cut the ribbon to the desired length; to find how long it should be, measure across the row of socks and add 12 inches.

3. Use number stickers to label each sock. If one has a busy pattern, place the number on top of a solid round sticker so that it’s easier to read.

4. Tack the ends of the ribbon to a railing or mantle with the pushpins; if you like, you can fasten the ribbon in several places to make a few swags.

5. Use mini clothespins to clip the socks to the ribbon; overlap them if you need to save space.

6. Tuck a gift inside each. If the item is heavy, use a larger clothespin to secure the sock.

Note: Gifts must be small enough to fit in tiny socks but safe for your child’s age.

Yule Ornament Idea: Crocheted Snowflakes

An example of homemade crocheted snowflakes. There are so many patterns, it is hard to duplicate any one flake!

I feel a little guilty about offering up this idea for DIY Yule ornaments.  The fact of the matter is that when it comes to fiber arts, I’m a dedicated knitter.  Crochet makes absolutely zero sense to me, and I have no intentions of ever taking up the craft.  That being said, I really can’t get enough of crochet snowflake ornaments.  My mother had several on the Christmas trees of my childhood, so they remind me of her and of that great time, but they’re also jaw-droppingly beautiful.  I’ve seen entire trees decorated with nothing but lights and these snowflakes–no two the same!–and thought them the most beautiful trees I’d ever seen.  The white thread of the snowflakes stands out beautifully against evergreen branches, and when you’ve got a collection of a bunch of different sizes, they add a great sense of dimension to your tree and help unify your existing (and almost certainly eclectic if you’re anything like me) ornament collection.

A tiny tree decorate in only white crocheted ornaments. Sweetly pretty!

Since I have no intentions to begin crocheting anytime soon, I took the most devious way out of this project.  I asked my mom for some.  Darling mother then decided she didn’t feel inclined to make them either…so she bought me a lot on Ebay!

As it turns out, Ebay’s not a bad way to acquire these ornaments.  Crafters apparently make them all throughout the year and then unload them during the holiday season.  You can acquire several dozen for under $20.  Etsy, of course, also has numerous listings for different snowflakes and snowflake groups.

Another great tip from my mom, who is a nursing home nurse, is to call up the area nursing homes and ask if any of the residents would be interested in making any for a fee.  My mother says she often has many patients who crochet items just to keep their hands busy, and many would welcome the chance for a commission.

My mother also admitted that she didn’t make the ornaments that hung on my childhood trees.  Even though she took credit for it in my youth, she actually purchased them at a church gift sale.  Apparently these are a fairly popular bazaar item in many parts of the country, so it might be a nice idea to frequent one or two of those.

Wherever you get them, I’ve found that they store best after the holiday season when put into individual baggies against a piece of cardstock or cardboard.  This keeps them from getting crumpled or tangled up in each other.

If you do know how to crochet and are itching for patterns, there’s no need to go out and buy a book or anything.  The Internet is full of patterns.  I highly recommend those published by Snowcatcher on her Snowflake Mondays.

Yule Ornament Idea: A Mistletoe Kissing Ball

Martha Stewart’s Mistletoe Kissing Ball

It doesn’t get much more Pagan than mistletoe, does it?  Contemporary Pagans regard it as an all-purpose magical herb, so it finds its way into all sorts of potions and charms.  Ancient druids held it in great esteem, and we’ve got centuries of folk practice under our belts regarding the herb…the most famous of which is the contemporary practice that a girl (or anyone these days) cannot refuse a kiss if she is standing under the herb.

Growing up as I did in the Midwest, few people had cause to fear the mistletoe kisses.  It wasn’t a very prolific plant in the area, so most people never came across it.  Since we also didn’t have large numbers of forest wanderers and wildcrafters looking to make a holiday buck, you couldn’t purchase it either, so nobody followed the custom.  I was in fifth grade before I even saw anyone hang a ‘mistletoe’ kissing ball and–to be bluntly honest–they used holly.  Along both American coasts, though, the holidays do see many forest people climbing trees and hacking down bundles of American mistletoe, which then gets sold in tiny sprigs for $2-$5.

As much as I support the idea of people learning aspects of wildcrafting and as much as I respect the very poor doing what they can to earn a little cash, I always refuse their mistletoe.  Unfortunately, almost everyone views mistletoes as an unrepentant parasite sucking the life out of their host.  Therefore, when they collect the plant, they often take the entire thing on the grounds that they’re performing a life-saving service to the host tree.  In reality, though, the mistletoe infestation is almost never so prominent as to be a dangerous vampire to the tree, and it might actually be giving its hosts something back.  As researcher Susan Milius found in her 2002 Science News article “Mistletoe, of All Things, Helps Juniper Trees”, the mistletoe berries attract more birds to the juniper trees.  Somehow, the trees end up producing a greater amount of berries themselves, which the birds then eat and spread about the forest.  In the end, mistletoe ends up having a very positive effect on the biodiversity of an area.

Between the variables of questionable availability and questionable harvesting practices, then, I have become a major proponent of using artificial mistletoe in holiday decorations.  Luckily, Martha Stewart’s amazing staffers have developed a very convincing and sophisticated DIY artificial mistletoe kissing ball.  Using Dupioni silk, iron-on vinyl fabric stiffener, pearl floral pins and some florist tape, beautiful mistletoe sprigs are just a quick craft away.  The sprigs can then be assembled into little ornament corsages for Yule trees and wreaths, or they can be fashioned into a traditional (and beautiful!) kissing ball, instructions for which follow.

With just a couple hours of work, you’ll end up with a classy product you can re-use year after year.  If the idea of losing the magical influence of real mistletoe bothers you, it’s a simple thing to sprinkle a few bits of dried mistletoe into the hot glue securing each glass ornament to the styrofoam ball.  Doing so will infuse the entire ornament with the appropriate energy while at the same time eliminating the need to secure fresh herbs every holiday season.

If there’s any questions in assembling the kissing ball, refer to the rather hilarious video of Martha Stewart and Stephen Colbert making this craft.  It’s beyond obvious that Martha doesn’t watch the Report or have much patience for Stephen’s antics…and that alone is worth the price of admission.

Tools and Materials

  • Iron, binder clips, scissors, hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Light green Dupioni silk (about 1/4 yard)
  • Iron-on matte vinyl
  • Leaf template
  • Green and black permanent markers
  • Floral pins with 1/4- to 3/8-inch white pearl heads
  • Small pine cones (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in size)
  • S-shaped floral pins
  • Floral wire
  • Small (1-inch) white ball ornaments, enough to cover Styrofoam ball
  • Glittering glue
  • Glitter
  • Styrofoam ball (any size from 3 to 8 inches will work)
  • Large screw eye hook
  • Metallic silver floral spray paint (make sure spray paint is for use on floral items; regular spray paint will melt the Styrofoam)
  • Silk ribbon in a coordinating color

How to create the ball:

  1. Cut silk into an 11-by-17-inch piece. Apply an iron-on matte vinyl to one side of the silk, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Fold the silk into quarters accordion style, lengthwise, with the vinyl side facing out so there are 4 layers. Cut off any excess and clamp with binder clips.
  3. Print leaf template and cut out. Trace leaves onto vinyl of folded silk with a green permanent marker. Cut out leaves with silk still folded, so you are cutting out four leaves at a time. Move binder clips as you cut to keep layers from shifting.
  4. Use pearl head floral pins to make berries. Make a dot on each of the pin heads with a black permanent marker, and wrap pins together in twos with floral tape. Wrap silk leaves around the paired pins and secure with more floral tape to create small mistletoe sprigs. Repeat to make enough sprigs for your kissing ball (we made about 35 for a 6-inch ball).
  5. Attach pinecones to S-shaped floral pins with floral wire.
  6. Paint glue on the small ball ornaments, and glitter using an assortment of colors (we used White Gold and Coarse Crystal). Paint glue onto pine cones, and glitter. Set ornaments and pine cones aside to dry.
  7. Insert a large screw eye into the Styrofoam ball and spray paint the ball with metallic silver floral spray paint.
  8. Start assembling the kissing ball by inserting the small ball ornaments into the Styrofoam ball, side by side. Poke holes in the Styrofoam ball with the stem of the ornament, and add a little hot glue to the hole. Insert the ornament back into the hole. Repeat until the whole ball is covered. (Note: It’s OK if there are some small blank spaces between some ornaments; these will be filled in with mistletoe and pine cones.)
  9. Finish decorating the kissing ball by inserting the pine cones on pins and mistletoe sprigs into the foam all around the ball.
  10. Attach a silk ribbon to the eye hook to hang the kissing ball.

Yule Ornament Idea: Yule Log Favor Boxes

Who wouldn’t love a Yule Log gift box for little holiday treats?

Only Martha Stewart could take an old toilet paper tube and turn it into ridiculously cute gift wrap.

The premise behind these Yule Log gift boxes is easy:  take a toilet paper tube and a piece of cardboard.  Trace the ends of the tube onto the cardboard and cut out the rounds.  At this point, you can either fill the tube with the gifts and tape the rounds onto the ends of the tube or you can fashion the ends into an insert-able lid.  One method is to measure the inner circumference of the tube and cut a strip of cardboard to that measurement, tape it into a loop, then tape or glue that loop to the back of one of the end rounds (which would make it look a bit like the lid in this photo.  At that point, you could cover the tube in faux bois paper, tie it with a ribbon, and add any desired accessories.  You could then fill the box with treats when you need to.

I think that these would make great gift boxes for manageable amounts of homemade candies, or perhaps as a box for a handmade ornament.  The toilet roll-sized tubes are also a decent ornament size in themselves.  As with the gilded walnuts I wrote about last year, I can totally see making up a bunch of these, stuffing them with candies, putting them on a tree, and letting holiday party guests choose their favors/gifts.  You could also tuck a few of these onto the Yule tree on Solstice Eve and let children search for them in the morning.  There’s definitely room to play here.

The 2009 Martha Stewart BoxesIf you really want to get fussy, you could check out this tutorial from MarthaStewart.com.  The main benefit to this tutorial is that it includes a downloadable .pdf of the birch bark image, which you could then print out on a color printer.  (You can also get that here.)  It also shows a way to create insertable end-caps out of wooden disks, which basically amounts to gluing a strip of cardboard just inside the tube at the depth of the disk.  However, you have to find wooden disks that are the exact diameter of the toilet paper tube, and I haven’t been able to find any.  This particular solution, though, could make the boxes usable for more than one year.

As Martha demonstrates in the December 2007 edition of her magazine, you don’t have to limit this box to the size of a toilet paper roll.  You can take a hacksaw to a mailing tube or a larger cardboard cylinder.  Something that size would be a cute way to present the annual socks and underwear, t-shirts, or any other easily roll-able item.

Lori Marie’s painted boxes

I am also a huge fan of the favor box method Lori Marie of the blog Pretty Little Things developed.  Essentially, she brushed a tube in Elmer’s glue and attached blank newsprint to the exterior, crinkling it up a bit for texture.  After it dried, she took acrylic paint and painted the tube a base color.  When it dried, she painted lines on it in a contrasting color to look a bit like wood grain.  Finally, she cut out a couple paper egg cups from an old carton, glued them in, and painted them a contrasting color then adding wood rings in a lighter color.  The effect is really adorable, and a good bit easier than fussing with expensive faux bois paper or Martha’s hyperrealistic pdf.  You’re also not limited to a natural color palette, if that suits you.  As Lori Marie demonstrates, you can go crazy with pinks and blues.

No matter what you choose, though, you’ll end up with a very Pagan-friendly package or ornament.